The pedestrian bridge over the Kennebec River near downtown Skowhegan is shown in July 2021. As part of the long-planned Skowhegan River Park, a boulder island would be installed below the bridge near the center of the river to help enhance the whitewater for the benefit of kayakers, surfers and others. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — A $25,000 state grant recently awarded to the nonprofit organization Main Street Skowhegan means $6.1 million now has been raised toward the goal of $7.8 million to launch the first phase of development for the long-anticipated Skowhegan River Park.

Permits for the project are nearly in hand and plans call for work to begin next year on creating access to the Kennebec River from the south bank, establishing a viewing area and installing an adjustable whitewater wave for paddling and river surfing.

In an effort to close the remaining gap in funding, the Skowhegan Select Board directed Town Manager Christine Almand to apply for a $1 million grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission, with a $327,300 match. The commission is a state and federal partnership that promotes development projects in counties near the border with Canada.

If the town were awarded the grant, it would pay $100,000 toward that match and Main Street Skowhegan would put forward the rest.

Almand said at a Select Board meeting Tuesday that should the town secure the grant from the commission, it would go toward the construction of a concrete ramp leading to the south side of the river so that access to the water and the River Park activities would be available to people with disabilities.

Main Street Skowhegan Executive Director Kristina Cannon said at the same meeting that since 2017 more than $7.5 million has been raised by the town and Main Street Skowhegan for the River Park. While that amount nearly matches what’s needed for the first phase of construction, much of that money is designated for later stages of development.


Cannon, in an email to the Morning Sentinel, broke down that number further. About two thirds of that $7.5 million was in the form of a $4.9 million federal earmark received last year by Main Street Skowhegan. An additional $1.4 million comes from money set aside in 2014 from a town tax increment financing account related to the Sappi paper mill.

The rest of the money came from Somerset County, private foundations, a local donor, the Skowhegan Economic Development Corp. and other sources.

“So, piecemeal, but we’re making it happen; $25,000 at a time,” Cannon said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Cannon said her organization will be approaching different businesses and donors in the area to secure private donations this summer.

Permitting for the project is expected to be completed this summer, and with more funding coming in Cannon hopes that phase one of construction can begin next year.

“The timeline we anticipate right now is construction next summer, and then officially the grand opening of that adjustable wave feature in summer of 2025,” Cannon told the newspaper previously. “As soon as phase one is complete, people will be able to start making use of the whitewater and the features.”


The adjustable whitewater wave will be the first in the Northeast. It will be constructed by adding a boulder island to the middle of the river, below the walking bridge downtown, to help constrict water on the right side of the river, Cannon explained. Whitewater already exists in that section of the Kennebec, created by the gushing Weston Dam, but waves will be enhanced by the constriction caused by the island and a metal plate installed at the bottom of the river that will control the size of waves by moving up and down. The plate can be controlled from the side of the river, Cannon said.

Hydraulics will be powered by vegetable oil to move the metal plate, Cannon said, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has deemed everything environmentally safe to be used in the river. Vegetable oil is becoming more commonly used with hydraulic systems, in part because it holds up in difficult conditions such as in fast-moving whitewater.

This latest funding for the project, the $25,000 from the state, came via the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund that is overseen by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, and it signals to Cannon that the project has a seal of approval from environmental advocacy groups.

“We are thrilled for (their) support,” Cannon said in an earlier news release. “Backing from state leaders who are dedicated to improving and expanding Maine’s natural resources is testament to the importance of the river park as a future outdoor recreation asset for not only our community, but also for the state.”

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